Affirmation, beauty, Burnout, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Heaven, Henry David Thoreau, Home, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Augustine, Travel, Uncategorized

Are Your Feet on the Right Road?

As a publishing company launch team reviewer, I have been reading a colleague’s forthcoming book about Saint Augustine . [1]  It has been the most important read of my life so far, and I hope you will read it!  Why? Because it returns me, yet again, to the wisdom of Augustine, a 4thcentury bishop, whose young life was stained with aggressive ambition, relentless restlessness, and sordid living. All he wanted from life was the freedom to be, to go, to escape. Repeat.

We leave in a few days for Lake Superior. The brothers will canoe while I keep camp (in the RV). I have too great a respect for the Ojibwes’ gichi-gami to contemplate 2 weeks on its unpredictably stormy deeps. But, with Augustine ringing in my ears, it puts me in the mindset of trying to understand human restlessness.

Lately, an outdoor sporting goods company called Backcountry has been running Instagram ads about burnout, beseeching people to get outside every day, to take long weekends in Nature,

to answer chronic workplace stress with big seasonal doses of “outervention.”  [2]

Even Augustine wrote about burnout, about the vanity of the chase (so did Solomon for that matter in Ecclesiastes). And you will find all kinds of advice to get out and “GO” in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Abbey, Leopold, Dillard, and other nature writers.

Their collective point? Humans are restless, and Nature is the balm.  But, none of this deals with the fact that escapism only delays the inevitable.  That our love of the road, of its freedoms, and that the destination is usually vague and indefinable.  Think of the way people dream about throwing off the shackles of work to take to the open road:  retiring young enough to travel; taking a year off to see the world; developing a bucket list.  Always, the focus is on escaping one’s present circumstances, and none of us is immune. And almost always, the goal is to master and revere creation rather than to revere the master Creator.

Augustine would argue most vehemently against our propensity to flee, particularly when the destination is not well-understood. 

The truth that is buried in our subconscious is that this earth is not our home. That nature is not our mother- it neither cares for us nor nurtures us in tender protection-it simply is. That death is the final outpost.

So, where is our real home? Augustine would encourage you to think long and deep about this;

that all the roads we desire on earth will lead to nowhere; that the only true road is the one that leads us home to God.

Christians believe this road is the way of Christ’s gospel, and it’s not a vacation, but a vocation-a lifelong endeavor to be about God’s work.

Feeling the burn of your workaday world? Dreaming of the beaches in Jamaica, the Grand Canyon’s wide-open arms, or sightseeing in Europe?  All wonderful things, to be sure.  But none of them set your feet on the right road.

As you prepare to enter winter through the colorful gates of autumn, I pray you can find some time to sort out why you feel so restless, and Who it is that can lead you to the road of peace. And, paddle on, even when it’s into the wind in rough waters.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Smith. James K.A.  On the Road with Saint Augustine. Brazos Press. Available October 1, 2019.  #OTRWithAugustine.  More info available at See more about Jamie’s book here:

[2  Backcountry Info

Affirmation, beauty, Blessings, Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Storms, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, wind, wisdom

Soldiering On

There is a dead calm in the trees today after a string of gusty days. The calmness amplifies animals’ movements; looking out just now, I can see a doe raise a front foot, then continue her slow browsing in the woods across Trout Creek.

Though a calm is often just a comma between storms, we should pay attention to it, because it invites introspection and watchfulness, a time heavy with anticipation like a maple leaf just waiting for the wind to ask it to dance.

I am at a point in life of watching and waiting. Watching sick loved ones cling to life, waiting for God to answer prayer. My eyes see misery clawing at hope. My pulse drones in my ears and pacifies the waiting like an undisturbed river flowing deep and sure.

Vigil is the gutsy response to life’s gusty times.

It is a posture of watching with loved ones, and waiting for an outcome while in the eye of the storm.  Every day I see adult children in their 60’s and 70’s visiting aged parents at the nursing home.  The visits are difficult-many residents can’t even remember their kids’ names-but the children soldier on out of respect, accepting the duty to honor the last days of a parent’s life. There is calm, and order, and rightness in the watching and waiting.

Vigil gives time for forgiveness and reconciliation, for sharing old memories, and for meditation on the way all of life soldiers on.

At the bluff, there is a lone cedar tree about 10 feet from the dune’s edge.  The dunes along this stretch of Lake Michigan have been unstable since the ice age created them, crumbling in the constant onslaught of waves and winds. The property my grandparents bought has lost 88 feet since the early 1960’s. This means that the cedar soldier was once deep in the forest at the back of the dune, playmates with the grand, towering beech, the stately ash, and the playful maple.  But, time has marched on with unstoppable force. The other trees succumbed to the storms of disease or the loggers’ saws. The dune continued to roll into the deeps.  So, now this cedar stands alone and bent, facing its inevitable demise with deep roots and grace in its vigil of watching and waiting. Each morning it greets the eastern sun and takes delight in the jays and cedar waxwings that haunt its branches, and the bald eagle who hunts from its crown. At night, it lifts its face westward, basking in the sun’s glow, a view it never had in its youth.

Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. But, like the ash and beech, disease took him before he could have a better view, a vigil cut short. Like the cedar, my mom stands at the edge, soldiering on through the indignities of Parkinson’s disease, in a vigil for glimpses of heaven.  Watching. Waiting. Praying.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, beauty, Blue Skies, Creation, Fog, God, Growing Up, Home, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Risk Taking, sailing, Uncategorized

Safely Into Port

A peculiar delight of my childhood summers in northern Michigan involved the dueling foghorns of the Coast Guard stations in Frankfort and at Point Betsie. The old fog signals were automatically activated when sensors detected fog.

All through a foggy night, the two lighthouses would sing their duet, the throaty bass booooommm from Frankfort followed 30 seconds later by a nasal middle F note from the Point.

Big ships, obscured in the mist, would echo back with their own howls accompanied by their thrumming propellers. Whenever the horns were bleating at dawn, my brother and I could lazily roll over, cozy in the cottage blankets, sleepily glad because there would be no 9:30 a.m. swimming lessons today.

Just such a day occurred last week, when I had a dozen things on my to-do list, but awoke to the musical thrill of the foghorns.  I rolled onto one side to enjoy the concert, secretly glad that I would not waste a “good beach” day on so many errands. As I rolled, however, I could feel the sun on my face. What in the world? Why would the fog signals be singing out if the sun was out?  Sure enough, it was a clear morning with just a hint of mist on the far horizon.

The foghorns lied.

It turns out that, over the last decade, the US Coast Guard turned its automatic coastal warning system into one that is, instead, an on demand system for mariners.  It means that any sailor, or fisherman, or tugboat captain can activate the coastal foghorns from the cockpit of their boat.

Now, I find it disorienting to know that it can be densely foggy and the signals won’t sing. Or bright and clear yet the horns are bleating. It robs one of the assurance that things are as they should be. We can no longer rely on the signals to tell us the weather. Talk about getting your signals crossed!

It brings to mind a scary crossing in thick, disorienting fog that we undertook on a sailboat across Lake Ontario when we were newly married. The captain had paid us to help him crew his new boat from the Toronto shipyards, across Lake Ontario, and through the locks of the Welland Canal. He needed to get his boat into Lake Erie, and we needed the money. But, we should not have been out in that fog. It was my job to stand at the bow with a tight grip on the fore-stay (I am unsure, had I fallen over, if they would have been able to find me in that fog), and blow the air horn- one prolonged blast at two-minute intervals to indicate we were underway by engine.  Perhaps it would have been less nerve-wracking had we had the ability to summon the coastal signals at will.

Today’s onboard navigation systems make being fogbound a less daunting circumstance. Even so, I take great comfort in hearing a foghorn trill on a truly foggy day.

It is a lot like life; we can rarely see what’s ahead, and we often feel we are just barely muddling through, but we can have confidence that God will see us safely into port. He may even be calling to us on a sunny day.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Adventure Tourism, Birds, Blessings, Camping, Faithful Living, God, Home, Nature, Prayer, Religion, River, Uncategorized, wisdom

With a Honk and a Prayer

On our meandering way home last week, we camped near a lake in northern Kentucky.  We went on a rainy walk before supper, so glad to stretch our legs, gladder still to see geese on the water, which, like robins, I prefer to interpret as another sign of spring.

After dinner and washing up in the RV, we settled into our bunk with our books, lulled by the sound of rain on the roof. Outside was a deepening twilight. Faintly at first, then growing louder, the honking of an army of geese approached the lake for the night, answered robustly by the birds already in residence.  The honking was a roar at splashdown.

At first I thought the geese were honking to establish some kind of hierarchy, a kind of threat between resident and intruder. But my reading revealed that geese make such a racket in their dusky landings and dawn takeoffs so that other geese will know where they are.  They don’t honk in threat, or greeting, or goodbye. They honk to be “seen” in the dark, to prevent accidentally colliding with one another. Our church has become so crowded of late that I laugh to think about honking in the vestibule so that no one accidentally elbows me while drinking hot coffee! Still,

we can use our hearing as a kind of sonar, to listen for people’s stories, hopes, fears, and needs.

The other time geese routinely honk is while migrating. Bird experts think it is a form of encouragement. It reminds me of they way players on the bench, and the fans behind them cheer on their team on the court and field. My church family is truly my flock in this regard.

In returning to our home church for worship, it felt wonderful to be welcomed by our church family… the honking of landing back in our fold, of encouragement in the questions about our trip, our welfare, what we learned, how it went. And we learned what had been happening at home in our absence.

The Bible calls this being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… people on both sides of the river, alive and dead, who greet us, enfold us, encourage us, pray with us, and then send us back out into God’s world with a honk and a prayer.

Who is in your flock to encourage you, to see you safely home? Listen for them!

 

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo credit: bestof:canada geese branta canadensis …snappygoat.com

Autumn, Blessings, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Home, Light, Nature, Silence, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Way of the Turkey, Deer, and Squirrel

The leaves are nearly all down now at Trout Creek. I love late autumn in Michigan, ever grateful to live where the slow turns of the seasons nourish and nudge our souls to look ahead. Here, we embrace the changes a new season brings, even when it is winter on the near horizon.

The signs are everywhere. Squirrels are hoarding acorns and fortifying nests with newly fallen leaves. Sow bugs and spiders are tunneling into the house in search of warmth. Just this morning, a buck out back was rubbing his antlers on the tamarack to get off the last of his pesky velvet.  Even the wild turkeys come in closer in their hunt for food.

At the store yesterday, the mother behind me had a cart overflowing with toys for Christmas, and people were stocking up on bread and milk with the news of imminent snow. I have a loaf of bread rising, and a brand new soup pot sitting on the stove awaiting its first of many assignments.

When we get back to Trout Creek, we work as hard as squirrels to be ready for winter. The split wood supply is renewed. Lawn tools are cleaned, oiled and stored even as the snow blower and shovels are readied. Gutters are cleaned, the car’s winter emergency kit is thrown in the trunk, the furnace is serviced, and the gas fireplace turned back on. Another blanket goes on the bed, and the boots get a new coat of waterproofing. Boats are hosed out, stored upside down on their rack, and covered.  Paddles go into the tall storage can. Ski poles are moved to the front. The bird feeders are restocked, while the downy woodpeckers and jays greedily cackle for more suet.

The short days mean more lamplight to illuminate those corners of our lives the sun seems to have forgotten. Now, instead of bright sunny picnics, we gather around the old family farm table. It’s soup, fresh baked bread, and fruit cobbler in place of burgers, beans, corn on the cob, and watermelon. I spend time arranging this year’s crop of canned and frozen foods. The anticipation of asparagus soup and a bubbly cherry cobbler on a cold, snowy night makes all the summer’s industry worthwhile.

It’s a time for being thankful, making ready, and taking delight in the slowdown. The long days of summer are filled with extended hours of play and work. It is now that we can give ourselves permission to hibernate for a time-to peruse that never-opened stack of summer reading, sit and pray with friends around the fireplace, study to learn something new, or simply curl up in a blanket with a hot mug of tea to watch it snow.

There is much to be learned from deliberately coming in out of the world, from slowing our hectic lives, and filling up on God’s wisdom. 

The wilderness will wait for us while we rest, regroup, reorient, and renew. The winter is for maps and making plans. Before we know it, we will be out on the water again-ice fishing, winter camping and canoeing, or learning to ski, or snowshoe, or curl on an outside rink. But these short, dark weeks of late autumn are for savoring the getting ready.

~J.A.P.Walton